Chemistry and Historic Preservation: A Collaborative Research Project on Bricks and Mortar

The blog Between the Cracks details two undergraduate students’ work as researchers partaking in the Summer Science Institute program at the University of Mary Washington. Sarah Smith, majoring in Chemistry, and Chris Young, majoring in Historic Preservation, spent the last 8 weeks of the ten week program researching and testing brick and mortar samples from some of Fredericksburg’s most historic structures. The samples extracted from each building underwent a series of tests to determine the elemental concentrations of calcium, sulfur, iron, silica, and magnesium. With this information, Sarah hopes to link the bricks with kilns used in 18th and 19th century Fredericksburg. Chris aims to scientifically distinguish the different periods of construction at the Mary Washington House, ca. 1772. The re-evaluation of building materials can add to the historic descriptions of the buildings as well as aid in the remediation techniques used in the preservation of historic buildings. The blog will detail future studies with this research project as Sarah and Chris will continue this research into next year.

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